WARNING: You should be able to see typed Korean language in order to fully read this post. If you are a Windows user, you can go to Microsoft's website and download the "East Asian Language Support". Ask your local computer nerd. Entice him with a woman and it will be easy. If you are a Mac user, enjoy your cute commercials.
MORE WARNING: The Korean never received formal education as to how to teach Korean to non-Korean speakers. Therefore, all the technical terminology that the Korean uses in this post (as well as in other Korean Language Series) are made up by the Korean. Additionally, the Korean will often be wrong about things. But hey, that’s the price you pay if you try to learn a foreign language from an amateur off a blog.
Why do Koreans add an "ah" sound to the end of a name? For example, "Hee Jin-ah," or “Kyung Min-ah”. I know that "si" is used like a Mr. or Miss, but why add the "ah?"
I bet you didn’t expect a Korean language lesson for your question, but the answer for your question has directly to do with one of the most important and difficult features in Korean language – particles.
The Korean must give this warning: Particles are pretty difficult. It is a very unique grammatical tool, and often adds the subtlest nuances in speech. The good news? The only two very tough things in Korean language are particles and verb conjugation. So once you master particles, you are halfway there.
There are three types of particles: classificational, conjunctional, and auxiliary. The first one is relatively easier to understand, so we will deal with particles in two parts. This part will be about classificational particles, and the next part will be about conjunctional and auxiliary particles.
Universal Grammar: How to Learn Any Foreign Language.
Given this is the first grammar lesson, it would be useful for the Korean to map out how exactly he will approach Korean grammar. In short, the Korean plans to teach Korean language along the lines of the universal grammar.
What is universal grammar? It’s what made Noam Chomsky famous. Chomsky theorized that all human languages, no matter how different they may appear, share the same essential features. Chomsky’s work is extremely abstract and theoretical, but for our practical purposes it suffices to say that there are only seven components to any human language. They are:
- Subject: Made up of noun phrases (S)
- Predicate: Made up of verb phrases, either active or stative (P)
- Object: Made up of noun phrases (O)
- Adjective phrases (AjP)
- Adverbial phrases (AvP)
- Conjunctions (C)
- Exclamations (E)
That’s it. Really, that’s it. Even the most complex sentence in any language in the world in any historical period can be broken down into these seven parts. For example, here is the first sentence of the Gettysburg Address, broken down into the parts:
AvP:[Four score and seven years ago] S:[our fathers] P:[brought forth] AvP:[on this continent] O:[a new nation,] AjP:[conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.]
For another example, here is the first sentence of the Declaration of Independence, made by Korean leaders against the Japanese rule in 1919, broken down:
S:[吾等(오등)은] AvP:[玆(자)에] AjP:[我(아) 朝鮮(조선)의] O:[獨立國(독립국)임]C:[과] AjP:[朝鮮人(조선인)의] O:[自主民(자주민)임을] P:[宣言(선언)하노라.] (“We hereby declare that Korea is an independent nation and Korean people are sovereign people.”)
This is such a significant discovery that it bears repeating in caps: ALL HUMAN LANGUAGES ARE MADE UP OF THESE SEVEN PARTS OF SPEECH.
Then what makes languages different? The only difference is the way the seven parts are organized. So learning any grammar is basically about how the seven parts of language are marked and organized. This is where we are going to begin.
Classificational Particles: Man bites dog, in three different languages.
To understand the function of classificational particles, let’s start from what we know first, i.e. English. Consider the following two sentences.
- Dog bites man.
- Man bites dog.
English speakers don’t have to think very hard to know that they mean two different things. One sentence is newsworthy, and the other is not. But step back and think about it. “Dog” in the first sentence is the same as “dog” in the second sentence. So how do we know the first “dog” is the biter (i.e. subject), while the second “dog” is the bitee (i.e. object)? In other words, how does English language note the fact that the same word is used for different parts of speech?
Answer: English speakers know by the placement of the noun with respect to the verb. If a noun comes before the verb, it is the subject of the sentence. If a noun comes after the verb, it is the object of the sentence. In other words, English sentences are “order-sensitive.”
(Aside: The king of order-sensitive language is Chinese, where even certain adverbs like time and place have to be in a certain place, or the sentence doesn’t make sense. In English, it doesn’t matter if you say “I will meet you in the building at 9 a.m.” or “In the building I will meet you at 9 a.m.” But in Chinese, only “At 9 a.m. in the building I will meet you” is correct – if you translate it strictly, it’s more like “9 a.m. in building I meet you.”)
But consider the same two sentences in Latin, which is not an order-sensitive language.
- Canis hominem mordet. (Dog bites man.)
- Homo canem mordet. (Man bites dog.)
Here, both “canis” and “canem” mean “dog”, and “homo” and “hominem” mean “man.” Do you see how in Latin, the order of the word does not matter? It does not matter because the noun is conjugated to show whether it is a subject or an object. If a noun form ends in “-em”, it is the object. No conjugation, and it is the subject. So take the second sentence, and switch the word order around, and they still make perfect sense. “Homo canem mordet” and “canem homo mordet” mean the exact same thing.
(Aside No. 2: This is all directly from The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker. It’s the best book to read if you were ever curious about languages.)
Korean is essentially the same with Latin, but with this difference: Instead of conjugating the noun, Korean language adds a “particle” at the end of the noun to show which one of the seven parts of language it belongs to. So in Korean, just like Latin, the word order does not matter. Here are the same two sentences in Korean.
- 개가 사람을 물다. Gae-ga saram-eul mulda. (Dog bites man.)
- 사람이 개를 물다. Saram-i gae-reul mulda. (Man bites dog.)
Recognize the nouns first. “Gae” is “dog”, and “saram” is “man/person”. You can see that in the first sentence, the particle “ga”, attached to “gae” shows that “gae” is the subject; the particle “eul” attached to “saram” shows that “saram” is the object. So “gae-ga saram-eul mulda” and “saram-eul gae-ga mulda” mean the exact same thing, just like Latin.
Let’s go back to what we know. English has something pretty similar to particles: prepositions. Nouns in a sentence, except subjects and objects, need a preposition to explain what the noun is doing in the sentence. For example, consider the sentence: “She walked to the park”. This is different from “She walked the park.” – in fact, that sentence makes no sense, because there is no preposition telling us what “the park” is doing in that sentence. The “to” in front of “the park” tells us that “the park” is functioning as an adverb – it is describing the manner of the verb, i.e. “walk”.
English has a similar feature as Latin as well, because you can actually conjugate nouns in English. To show plurals, we generally conjugate the noun by adding “s” or “es”. “Cup” can be changed to “cups.” Noun is also conjugated to show possessives by adding “’s”. So a cup belonging to Mary is “Mary’s cup.” (You can also say that this is not really a conjugation, but a form of particles in English.)
In Korean, all the above-named functions—showing the function of a noun in a sentence or showing a certain feature of the noun—are done by particles. So remember: In correct Korean grammar, A NOUN CANNOT STAND ALONE WITHOUT A PARTICLE.
JR, here is the answer to your question before we go any further. Why do Korean people attach “ah” to people’s names? Because people’s names are nouns, and they cannot stand alone without a particle. “ah” or “ya” are called “Exclamatory Particles” – they attach to a noun to show that this noun is an exclamation. The full list of all classificational particles are in the later part of this post.
(Aside No. 3 – Interesting thing about the Korean language, because of the existence of particles: Often, Korean sentences would be complete without a subject, just like Spanish. This is because even without the subject, all the particles in the sentence make the functions of all parts really clear.)
Advanced Stuff: Read Only If You Are Hardcore
The Korean's Note: No matter how hard the Korean tried, it was really difficult to come up with a neat chart of particles like the Korean made with Korean pronunciation, mostly because each particle has different nuances, which would require too many example sentences, and also because there are a ton of adverbial particles compared to others. Honestly, if you came this far into learning Korean, the Korean recommends buying an actual Korean grammar book written by professionals. But for a quick reference, the list below would work. The Korean also welcomes questions, as always -- but don't expect him to do your homework.
Note on the Following List: The choice of many particles depends on whether the preceding noun ends in a batchim or not. For example, the particle to indicate that a noun is a subject is either “i” or “ga”. “i” is used with a noun that ends in batchim, and “ga” is used with a noun that ends without batchim. So if you want to say “I did it”, it’s nae-ga haetda. But if you want to say “Jane did it”, it’s jae-in-i haetda. If you see particles divided by a slash, assume that the first one is used for nouns that end in batchim, and the second is for ones that do not.
Complete List of All Classificational Particles
a. Subjective particle: 이/가. Attach these things to show that a noun is a subject of the sentence. See the “dog bites man” sentences above for an example.
b. Objective particle: 을/를. Attach these things to show that a noun is an object of the sentence. See the “dog bites man” sentences above for an example.
c. Adjective particle: 의. Attach it to make a possessive or an adjective out of a noun.
E.g. 메리의 컵 ( “Mary’s cup”)
d. Predicatory particle: 이다/다. Attach these things to a noun in order to form a predicate. This actually has the same function as “be” in English.
E.g. 내가 범인이다. (“I am the criminal.”)
Beomin means “criminal/perpetrator”, so ida attached at the end of beomin makes the noun into a predicate, which explains the subject. This particle is special because it conjugates like a verb. We will deal with verb conjugation in a later post.
e. Exclamatory particle: 아/야, 이여/여. These particles attach on a noun to turn the noun into an independent exclamatory phrase. See the question of the day for an example.
f. Adverbial particle: Adverbial particles are roughly equivalent to prepositions in English, because many prepositions make an adverbial phrase out of a noun. There are a lot of these, so be ready.
1. destination – 에 (place+), 에게, 한테 (person+). Shows that the attached noun is the destination of the object. These are similar to “on”, “to”, or “toward”.
e.g. 그가 너에게 연필을 주었다. (“He gave a pencil to you.”) 내가 공을 벽에 던졌다. (“I threw the ball on the wall.”)
2. aspiration – 에, 으로/로 (place+), 에게로, 한테로 (person+). Shows that the attached noun is the eventual destination of the subject. Similar to “toward”.
e.g. 컵이 바닥에 떨어졌다. (“Cup fell on the floor.”) 그녀가 그에게로 갔다. (“She went to him.”)
3. origination – 에서 (place+), 한테서, 에게서/게서 (person+), 으로부터/로부터 (place, person+). Shows that the attached noun is the starting place of something. These are similar to “from”.
e.g. 내가 연필을 그에게서 받았다. (“I received a pencil from him.”), 그는 낸터캣에서 왔다. (“He came from Nantucket.”)
4. transition – 으로/로. Shows the attached noun is the end product of a transformation. Similar to “to” or “into”
e.g. 밤이 낮으로 바뀌었다. (“Night turned into day.”)
5. means – 로, 으로서/로서. Shows that the attached noun is a means to an end. These are similar to “with”.
e.g. 그녀가 사과를 칼로 깎았다. (“She peeled an apple with a knife.”)
6. capacity – 로, 으로써/로써. Shows that the attached noun is operating in a certain capacity. Similar to “as”.
e.g. 그가 친구로써 말했다. (“He spoke as a friend.”)
7. cause – 으로/로. Shows that the attached noun is the cause of something. Similar to “because of"
e.g. 그는 감기로 고생했다. (“He suffered because of a cold.”)
8. companion – 와/과, 하고, 랑/이랑. Shows the attached noun is a companion of something. Similar to “with”
e.g. 그가 학교에 친구와 갔다. (“He went to school with a friend.”)
9. direct quote – 라고. Shows the attached noun is a direct quotation.
e.g. 그가 “가자”라고 말했다 (“He said ‘let’s go’.”)
10. indirect quote – 고. Shows the attached noun is an indirect quotation.
e.g. 그가 가자고 말했다. (“He said let’s go.”)
11. comparison – 와/과, 만큼, 보다, 처럼. Shows the attached noun is greater than, less than, or the same as another noun.
e.g. 그의 키는 나의 키보다 크다. (“His height is greater than my height.”)
Got a question or comment for the Korean? Email away at firstname.lastname@example.org.